Dems Go On The Offensive In Iowa 2 Case, Tie GOP Attacks To Voter Disenfranchisement Push

Attorney Marc Elias outside of Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse in Phoenix, AZ, on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, after the hearing for his lawsuit against Arizona over voting rights. Elias is the general counsel for the Hillary Clinton campaign. (Photo by David Jolkovski for The Washington Post)
Attorney Marc Elias (Photo by David Jolkovski for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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March 30, 2021 11:30 a.m.

Democrats are trying to reshape the narrative around the contested election in Iowa’s second district after weeks of Republicans’ using the dispute as a cudgel.

The most high-profile Republicans, including those from the Senate with seemingly little stake in the case, have latched on to the election and repeatedly boosted the same talking point: Democrats are trying to steal this election and are hypocrites for denouncing former President Donald Trump’s attempts to do the same in 2020. 

That is not, in fact, the case. Democrat Rita Hart is challenging the November election she lost to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks by six votes, alleging that a couple dozen ballots were wrongly rejected. She filed her claim under the Federal Contested Elections Act, which kicked the case to the House Administration Committee. Hers is not the only FCEA case before the committee from the 2020 election cycle, but it is the only one Republicans care about. Both sides filed initial briefs last Monday, and responses to each other’s briefs this week.

Up until now, Democrats were on the defensive, protesting the meritless, false equivalency that Republicans had seized on and insisting that this process in the House is business as usual. 

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A new brief from Hart’s lawyer, Marc Elias, took a different tone. 

“Her obstruction is consistent with her party’s outright hostility to fundamental democratic norms,” Elias wrote of Miller-Meeks. 

He then detailed those GOP attacks on democracy, “from the baseless attempts of its standard-bearer and his allies to throw out hundreds of thousands of lawful votes and overturn the will of the people last November, to its refusal to uniformly condemn the assault on democracy that unfolded on January 6, to its unanimous opposition to the For The People Act and other legislative efforts to safeguard the vote, to its open hostility to this attempt to prevent the disenfranchisement of 22 Iowans.”

“The position of Contestee Miller-Meeks and the Republican party is now clear,” he added, “the right to vote is worthy of neither respect nor protection.”

Elias and Hart have pivoted to the offensive, tying the somewhat-below-the-radar dispute to broader Democratic alarm about a post-Trump push by the GOP to limit access to the ballot box. Republican-controlled legislatures across the country have introduced hundreds of voter suppression bills, backlash to the high-turnout 2020 election in which Democrats won the White House, kept the House and clinched an effective majority in the Senate. Congressional Democrats have rallied behind HR1, the voting rights package, and are pounding the alarm about the disenfranchisement that will be unleashed absent its protections. 

Against that backdrop, Elias, a prominent voting rights attorney, and Hart are arguing that not only is Miller-Meeks dismissing and disrespecting the procedure — she’s trying to suppress Iowa votes. The Democrats’ case centers on 22 ballots they say were wrongly rejected by election workers. If they were added to the vote totals, Hart would win. Miller-Meeks was provisionally seated at the beginning of the term after the election was certified by the state. 

Miller-Meeks’ response brief urges the committee again to dismiss Hart’s claim, accusing Hart of challenging the election in the House instead of court to seek out a friendlier adjudicator, and objecting to her proposed discovery process. Miller-Meeks’ team also insisted that she be allowed to depose and cross-examine the voters who cast the disputed ballots themselves.  

In the meantime, expect Republicans to stay laser-focused on the case, which they see as both politically helpful and a convenient way to both-sides Trump’s GOP-aided attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

The National Republican Congressional Committee introduced a new ad on Monday tying Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA) to Democrats’ attempts to “steal” the election. Axne is the only Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, and the NRCC has her seat on its list of 2022 targets. She squeaked out a win in 2020 by less than 2 percentage points. If the committee finds that Hart’s argument bears water and recommends that she be seated instead of Miller-Meeks, Axne would be in for an uncomfortable vote that Republicans would certainly use to their advantage.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), meanwhile, has kept up the drumbeat of outrage, sending House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) a letter Monday urging her to dismiss the case. 

He also took a shot at Elias, bringing up his sanction from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals during an unrelated case. Elias and other attorneys at the firm Perkins Coie have asked the court to reconsider, calling the filing that earned them the sanction a “regrettable but good-faith mistake.”

Read Hart’s brief here:

And Miller-Meeks’ here:

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